About as polarizing as it gets
Ok! I'm going to be honest with you: a film like this is why I love critiquing film. (or trying to, at least) Not because it's in the realm of La La Land. Not at all. It's because this film is so polarizing. On the one hand, you have an absolutely MASTERFUL performance from Isabelle Huppert. This performance is going to make a strong run at my top performance of 2016, but then again it might not because.....well, because most of this movie sucks.
I don't know. Maybe I'm just not cultured enough to understand international films. It's definitely not the subtitles! I have no problem reading subtitles. (This entire film is in French) And I don't need everything spoon fed to me. I don't mind having to figure things out myself. What I do mind is having excess fat in your film. The meat of this is that IMDB description. The cat and mouse game between her and the man who assaulted her. Only problem is that only constitutes about 30 minutes of the 130 minute film. The rest of the film is spent developing characters, some of which have nothing to do with the meat of the story, as well as telling a pretty uninteresting side story between Huppert, Anne Consigny, and the most recognizable actor in the film for Americans, Christian Berkel. (Inglorious Basterds) With this much fat, the pacing for the film is nonexistent, and of course it feels overlong. In addition, the set design was not great. Huppert's job is the head of a video game company, and as something of a gamer myself whom has always been fascinated by how they are made, I can tell you that they are not made AT ALL like how they make them in the film. (Not my best sentence there I know but I'm tired) I mean all you have to do is watch Indie Game: The Movie and you'd know they are not run even remotely like that. Unless they're trying to convey the struggles between publishers and developers in one room but.....I just don't think this film is smart enough for that. Finally, there's this whole thing between Huppert's son and his girlfriend, (played by Jonas Bloquet and Alice Isaaz, respectively) that ends in the most underwhelming way imaginable. I mean words cannot describe how poorly written their character arc is.
All that said....Isabelle Huppert is GREAT. This is a very nitty gritty role that asks Huppert to really dehumanize herself. She clearly gave part of her soul to this character, and I respect her for going all-in here. She became the character from the first moment of the first scene, and when that happens you know you have something magical on your hands. She was so good there were plenty of times I didn't even bother to read her subtitles and I just watched her reactions to whatever it was that was going on. Also because of the subtitles I don't think I can really comment on the other performances, but I will say Jonas Bioquet as Huppert's son was excellent. Additionally, when we were in the meat of the story, I was riveted. When the assailant is finally revealed, the film goes in a very VERY different direction than I expected it to. I most certainly did not see the second half of the 30 minutes of this plot coming, but I totally bought it. It was uncomfortable, sure, but Huppert's character was developed enough that I could understand where she was coming from. In a twisted sort of way. But man talk about a sharp left turn there! This was easily the most interesting part of the film, and I just wish we had spent more time there rather than talking about her son and girlfriend's relationship.
EDIT: I continue to be torn about this film. I just....I love how it's unpredictable. I had no idea who the assailant was going to be, or where the film was going to go after he was revealed. I just wish that the story itself was more interesting! Maybe I should've tried to not dwell on the assault and Huppert coping with that. But at the same time that is the most interesting part of this drama, and when we weren't investigating this further and when we weren't investigating Huppert's struggles to cope with (there are other words I would use there but it may spoil what happens) the attack....it just seemed to me like the film was stalling for time.
At the end of the day, I am very glad that one of the most celebrated international stars finally received an Oscar nomination. However, there's not much else worthwhile going on in Elle, despite a pretty interesting premise. If you're into films like I am, or really like watching great acting performances there's something here for you, but if not? I certainly wouldn't blame you for letting this one slip through the cracks.
The Critique: Despite a masterful performance from Isabelle Huppert, Elle is a woefully missed opportunity thanks to poor pacing and entirely too much excess fat within the story.
The Recommendation: Well, hey! Get to repeat this again: if you're into films or great acting performances it's worth a watch but if not? This is not the film you are looking for. Move along.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average. And it's a 6 almost entirely for Isabelle Huppert. May very well be the performance of 2016.